Are you surprising with your poems? You should be. People love invention and they love to be surprised. As an artist, it's your job, your sacred task, to make things seem new even when they aren't.
Surprise is the best way to grab attention. It's also the best way to keep people thinking about your work after they stop reading.
So how should you use surprise?
The answer is: surprise me! But keep one very valuable caveat in mind: if you hit with too many surprises at once, joy turns to confusion, then anger and your readers will just tune out.
But if you sprinkle surprises throughout your poems, you'll grown an enthusiastic audience.
Let's look at some examples. Gwedolyn Brooks's poem: "We Real Cool" surprises from word go because it uses a slang title. Next, it has a subtitle: ""The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel." that sounds like a title you'd most likely find on a painting, not a poem.
The next surprise is, despite the long title, the poem's over almost before it begins!
Which is the whole point right?
We / Die soon.
The ending is, of course, a smashing surprise with death popping up on the penultimate word. But there are other surprises. The use of three word stanzas; the use of a single word refrain at the end of each line. The vanishing of the refrain at the end.
That's how to use surprise like a master!
Joy Harjo's poem "Eagle Poem" is a very predictable poem all the way until the closing lines. It's exactly the kind of poem you'd expect her to write and this is intentional. It is a nod to tradition. But the closing lines pack a big revelation:
It's not only that the poem takes a sudden turn toward absolutism and beauty, but that it repeats the line. Why should it do this?
Because the two matching lines show a harmonic resonance that hints as to what makes beauty. Harmony. So big Platonic thoughts at the end of an overtly Native American meditation. Universal Mind manifested in two lines.
The lesson is: don't be afraid to take chances in your poems and do things that will make your readers say "Crickey!" even if they're young and not British.